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Mark Richey

Owner of the night


This summer U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Richey finished his ninth tour of duty. He flies the C-27, the Air Force’s new STOL twin-engine cargo plane, perfect for delivering packages, troops, and medical supplies to remote NATO strips around Afghanistan. No pilot lands perfectly every time, but if Richey’s landings were 10 or so feet shorter they’d feel as though he were nailing the deck of an aircraft carrier.

A typical day…I'm on the night shift out here, so I usually don't have to wake up ridiculously early. I get up a couple hours before we go and grab a bite to eat and a workout at the gym here. Then we go in a few hours before takeoff, and review notams, intelligence, et cetera, and make sure that everything regarding our mission that day is good to go. From there we head on out, and fly well into the night. Afghanistan isn’t as large a country as most Americans are used to, so we end up doing lots of short flights in a day. Short flights keep you busy—and out here staying busy makes the time go by much, much faster.

Early beginnings…I actually fell in love with flying as a kid, as I had the opportunity to fly with my father's friend and longtime business partner in his Cessna.

Why the Air Force…My dad recently dug up an old book, the type where the parent asks the kid questions and they record the answers to look back at some day. One of the questions was, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I responded, “I want to fly an Air Force jet, and go to the desert.”

Scariest incident…A rescue mission in Colombia, South America. A Colombian helicopter had crashed, and people were dying by the hour. At the end of an already extremely long day, my crew had to rally to get a bunch of things in order to get in there and rescue any further victims. The location of the crash site was not ideal, and it took a lot of planning and strategizing. Nevertheless, we were able to get in there with the help of a Colombian helicopter crew, and get the [14] remaining survivors to the medical facility in Bogotá.

Advice for students…Study hard. I know that’s common advice, but there really is so much to know in aviation that you’ll be studying for the rest of your career, so you might as well get used to it. Also, be thankful if your instructor is being tough on you, because that will help you get through your checkrides.

Who: Mark Richey
Age: 39
Total time: 6,000 hours.
Extra: Richey landed on an airstrip in the far northeast corner of Afghanistan whose runway surface of pierced steel planking had been built during the Soviet occupation. "Like many things built by the Soviet Union, the runway actually has a bend in it, and it is crooked."